For years, the African American Civil War Memorial Museum hosted visitors in the gym of the Old Grimke School on U Street in Northwest D.C. But the historic building just underwent a multi-million dollar renovation and the museum is moving into 15,000 square feet space in a state-of-the-art building.
“It’s been a long journey for us,” said Frank Smith, the museum’s founding director. “But, the city never lost its interest in this.”
The District, which owns the building, started renovations on the building in 2019. But much of the construction was delayed because of COVID-19 restrictions.
The renovations are part of a revitalization effort to bring more jobs and homeowners to the U Street neighborhood.
The museum has $1 per year rent on a 99-year lease, ensuring that it stays in the neighborhood for years to come.
“Many people didn’t know that there were African Americans that fought in the Civil War,” Smith said. “People ought to know about it because that’s the way we inspire ourselves, by going to museums.”
The historic Grimke School was one of the country’s first schools for Blacks after the Civil War. The school was originally called the Phelps School and re-named after Civil Rights Attorney and Activist Archibald Grimke in the 1930s.
Smith said the new space will bring the veterans, students and community’s story full circle.
The museum will stay open on an appointment basis over the next few months while it moves into the new space, he said.